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1999 NCC News Archives

National Council of Churches News Briefs -- March 16, 1999

INDEX TO NEWS BRIEFS:

NCC Withdraws Shareholder Resolution from Citigroup Inc.

NEW YORK CITY – The National Council of Churches has withdrawn a shareholder resolution from Citigroup Inc. after the corporation agreed to engage in a "good faith" dialogue regarding the endorsement of the "CERES Principles."

CERES (the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) is a 10-year-old partnership among some of the largest investors (with $200 billion in stock), environmental groups (with 14 million members) and leading corporations in the country. The Principles ask for full disclosure of environmental costs, benefits and impact as part of a commitment to environmental improvement and transparency.

Citigroup includes includes Citibank and Travelers Group. "While this is not a pledge to endorse, it is a commitment to engage in serious discussions with us as shareholders," commented Dr. Ariane van Buren, Environment Director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of religious investors in which the NCC participates. ICCR coordinates corporate responsibility work for 275 U.S. churches and faith communities.

"The NCC, as part of its social responsibility in investment and our economic justice agenda, files shareholder resolutions with companies to urge them to act in a more socially responsible manner," said Timothy Smith, ICCR’s Executive Director. "Our goal in filing these resolutions is to affect change in a company."

In addition, the NCC has been using its shares to challenge companies on a variety of other issues. For example, the NCC sponsored a resolution to Lucent Technologies asking the company to prepare a report for shareholders dealing with diversity issues. The company, a recent spin-off from ATT, agreed after dialogue to do the report requested. As a result, the NCC withdrew the resolution.

However, NCC and other sponsors have been less fortunate with Home Depot, where shareholders with over $30 million of stock have asked the company to do a similar diversity report. Home Depot settled a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination for more than $100 million, precipitating the resolution. The company has declined to disclose any hard data on its employment of women and minorities. This resolution goes to a vote at Home Depot’s stockholders’ meeting in Atlanta this spring.

The NCC also has been involved in shareholder resolutions with Mobil Oil, challenging its contributions to global warming. On other environmental issues, the NCC has co-sponsored resolutions to Abbott Laboratories and Gillette requesting they endorse the CERES principles. In addition, the NCC is one of a number of co-sponsors of a resolution to General Electric challenging GE’s pollution of the Hudson River through PCBs.

Finally, on international issues, the NCC has co-sponsored a resolution to Wal-Mart, dealing with the issue of "sweatshop" conditions in factories overseas providing products to Wal-Mart, and a resolution to Unocal, challenging their operations in the military dictatorship of Burma.

The NCC also has a commitment – as do many other religious investors – to earmark a portion of their investment capital to support community development efforts. Most recently, the Council agreed to make a modest $10,000 investment in Shared Interest, a fund which guarantees loans for community development investing in South Africa’s black community.

"Speaking Up for Public Schools" -- NCC Christian Century Article

NEW YORK CITY – The Rev. Oliver Thomas, National Council of Churches Special Counsel for Religious and Civil Liberties, takes on the "dump-public-schools movement" in his article "Speaking up for public schools" in the March 10, 1999, issue of "The Christian Century."

"No doubt there are school districts where the religious rights of students are denied and the role of religion and faith is ignored in the curriculum," said the Rev. Thomas. "With over 15,000 school districts nationwide, it’s no surprise that some get it wrong….Most schools, however, are struggling to get it right."

The Rev. Thomas helped draft the new consensus guidelines on appropriate religious expression in the public school, distributed by President Clinton and endorsed by such diverse groups as the National Association of Evangelicals and People for the American Way. An ordained minister and a lawyer, he works extensively with school districts on how to implement the guidelines.

"In fact, I haven’t been in a single district – from L.A. to Long Island – where schools are promoting atheism and moral anarchy," he continues in the Century. "To the contrary, the majority of educators are fighting for the moral as well as academic lives of their students.

"In a time when parents practice drive-by divorce, Hollywood offers gratuitous sex and violence, and prominent preachers and politicians model greed, dishonesty and disrespect, most teachers are working overtime to sustain what is best understood as a countercultural movement."

The Rev. Thomas points to the NCC’s proposed policy statement, "The Churches and the Public Schools at the Close of the 21st Century," set for the second of two "readings" in November 1999, as its "alternative to Exodus 2000."

"Instead of withdrawing in the face of increasing problems, the NCC is calling on Christians to get involved" by:

  • creating partnerships with neighborhood schools through, for example, tutoring, literacy and after-school programs for latch-key kids.
  • organizing to provide increased and more equitable funding for public schools.
  • standing against "the siren song of tuition vouchers as a cure-all for the ills of failing schools." "Rather than focusing on the relative handful of children who might be helped by a voucher program, the statement urges Christians to focus on the vast majority of students who – with or without vouchers – will remain in public schools," the Rev. Thomas says.

NCC, Vatican Exchange Correspondence on Ecumenism

NEW YORK CITY – An exchange of correspondence between the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission and the Vatican on the subject of the papal encyclical on ecumenism has served to further strengthen an ongoing and cordial relationship.

Last fall, the Faith and Order Commission made a formal response to the papal encyclical, "Ut Unum Sint" ("On Ecumenism"). This response welcomed the encyclical as "a new expression of the commitment of the Roman Catholic Church to ecumenism," coming "at a time of fragility within the ecumenical movement itself."

In thanking the NCC for its response, Edward Cardinal Cassidy, the Roman Catholic Church’s top official for ecumenical relations, noted "the very positive tone in which the views of the Commissioners are stated."

He continued, "We are, of course, well aware of the importance of Faith and Order work whether on the international or national levels. Indeed, as you know, the Holy Father has given considerable support to Faith and Order, not just in the encyclical, but on various occasions, over many years. We have come to expect positive results from the multilateral dialogue of Faith and Order."

The Cardinal’s letter concluded by extending "the prayers of this Pontifical Council" and "its readiness to cooperate in Faith and Order activity now and in the future."

April PBS Airing Set for Powerful "Forgotten Fires" Story

NEW YORK CITY – "Forgotten Fires" – the powerful story of race relations in a rural community in South Carolina that experienced two church burnings – is scheduled for national broadcast by PBS this spring. The program was produced for the Independent Television service with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other funders, including the NCC.

The story begins with the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in Clarendon County, S.C., in 1994 – a development many citizens regarded as unthinkable. But when two young men were drawn into the Klan and burned down two historic Black churches, the community was forced to confront the true state of race relations in the post-Civil Rights South. We see the often surprising turn of events through the eyes of Klan members past and present, pastors, and citizens young and old. They weave a compelling narrative of faith facing down evil, the seductiveness of hatred, and the power of reconciliation.

The NCC is encouraging church members to look for this program April 29 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) and to think of ways it could be of continuing use in congregational settings. The program can be an effective media tool for racial reconciliation – which is the goal the NCC had in mind when it joined with others to support this production.

The NCC’s $50,000 was the initial funding for the film and enabled the shooting of the footage related to the Ku Klux Klan. The Council also helped the film’s producers secure foundation funding.

For further information and to order free discussion guides, contact ITVS at 415-356-8383 x242.

Hemphill Named CWS Community Education, Fund-Raising Head

ELKHART, Ind. – Rhonnie Hemphill has been elected director of the Community Education and Fund Raising Program of Church World Service, a post he will assume in April. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Mr. Hemphill currently is director of development at the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Louis, Mo.

He came to the Disciples from the American Red Cross, where he worked in several capacities including as a chapter manager (Flint, Mich.), interim managing director of the Midwestern Operations headquarters, and an executive in the area of financial development and donor resource development.

A graduate of the University of Missouri, he went on to earn a law degree from St. Louis University School of Law. "We are excited that we have in Mr. Hemphill a person with extensive fund-raising experience, a person with a law degree, a person who has worked with a member denomination and a person who has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ," said CWS Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page in welcoming Mr. Hemphill’s election.

On the Road with the NCC General Secretary …

The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell’s current travel schedule through April includes:

  • March 19-21: Children’s Defense Fund National Symposium on Children, Race and Poverty/Dedication of Riggio Library, Haley Farm, Knoxville, Tenn.
  • April 8: NCC 50th Anniversary Site Committee, Cleveland, Ohio.
  • April 16: Panelist at American Society of Newspaper Editors Conference, San Francisco, Calif.
  • April 18: Speaker at Niles Ecumenical Ministry Interfaith Banquet, Akron, Ohio.

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